Expert in young women’s breast cancer awarded the Leonard Schnitzer Chair

Pepper Schedin, Ph.D., professor of cell, developmental and cancer biology in the OHSU School of Medicine and the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, was appointed the inaugural recipient of the Leonard Schnitzer Chair in Breast Oncology.

Schedin is an internationally recognized breast cancer leader whose work has shifted the paradigm for addressing the clinical problem of poor outcomes in young women’s breast cancer. Her lab is dedicated to understanding how normal breast development contributes to breast cancer risk and patient outcomes, focusing on the unique windows of breast development that occur during puberty, pregnancy, and peri-menopause. Schedin and colleagues discovered how changes in the breast after childbirth can alter the development of breast cancer, a discovery that has led to postpartum breast cancer being recognized as a unique breast cancer subtype.

“Dr. Schedin is internationally recognized as a breast cancer leader who tackles difficult, and often controversial, research problems with steadfast rigor and insight,” says Lisa Coussens, Ph.D., professor and chairwoman of the Department of Cell, Developmental & Cancer Biology in the OHSU School of Medicine and co-deputy director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. “She has been remarkably courageous throughout her career in repeatedly identifying important biological conundrums overlooked by mainstream cancer research – these have translated into unique therapeutic opportunities for breast cancer clinical research. She is a consummate advocate for trainees and junior faculty generously giving her time and insight to helping others realize their dreams, and we whole-heartedly congratulate her on this well-deserved honor.”

Pepper Schedin, Ph.D., gives a tour of her lab in the Knight Cancer Research Building to members of the Leonard Schnitzer family.

Schedin’s research is at the forefront of understanding the complex changes occurring in the mammary gland tissue environment that impact risk and development of breast cancer. Her seminal research reported on the composition and functional significance of extracellular matrix proteins and immune cells that are highly malleable throughout various stages of development and remodeling in the breast throughout life. Her contributions have significantly impacted the field’s appreciation of factors contributing to breast cancer risk, while also identifying unique developmental windows that can be targeted for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer.

She earned a Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics from the University of Colorado and is a member of the American Association for Cancer Research, Women in Cancer Research, the Metastasis Research Society, the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer, and the American Society for Matrix Biology. The endowed chair is a two-year appointment designed to support distinguished faculty conducting clinically relevant breast cancer research at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

“I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the Leonard Schnitzer family for their incredible generosity and unwavering support of OHSU and the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute over the years,” says Brian Druker, M.D., director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. “We are grateful to each member of the family for their sustained support and commitment to advancing research progress to develop better ways to prevent, treat and diagnose breast cancers.”

Honoring Leonard Schnitzer

The Leonard Schnitzer Chair in Breast Oncology was established by a generous gift from the Leonard Schnitzer family, including his wife, Lois, and their six daughters: Jill Edelson, Rita Philip, Gayle Romain, Dina Schnitzer, Sandra Schnitzer and Mardi Spitzer.

Schnitzer family members (left to right): Gayle Romain, Sandra Schnitzer, Mardi Spitzer, Lois Schnitzer, Rita Philip, Dina Schnitzer and Jill Edelson

The endowment honors the memory of Leonard, who was respected for his compassion, visionary leadership and community involvement. Born November 21, 1924, Schnitzer was the ninth child of Russian immigrants Rose and Sam Schnitzer. His father started a one-man Portland scrap business in 1908 called Alaska Junk Company. Under Leonard Schnitzer and his brothers, the family business expanded to become the Schnitzer Group which included scrap metal recycling, steel making, shipping, and real estate.

Left to right: Mardi Spitzer, Lois Schnitzer, Brian Druker, M.D., Rita Philip, Gayle Romain and Dina Schnitzer

Leonard became the CEO of Schnitzer Steel Industries in 1973 and remained chairman until his death in 2003. It became a publicly traded company in 1993 and is one of the largest scrap metal recyclers in the United States. Leonard spent his childhood in Portland, graduated from Lincoln High School, attended Reed College, and then later Stanford University and the University of Oregon. He was the youngest graduate from the North Pacific Dental School and practiced dentistry in the Navy during the Korean War. In 1946 Leonard joined his father and four brothers at Schnitzer Steel Products. Leonard Schnitzer supported numerous community organizations, including the Mittleman Jewish Community Center, Temple Beth Israel, Reed College, Portland Art Museum, and the Jewish Federation of Portland.

The Leonard Schnitzer Family established this endowed chair in Leonard’s memory to help advance clinically relevant cancer research and the work of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute to end cancer as we know it. An investiture ceremony will be held later this summer to honor the family and Schedin.

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